Prologue- The loss of the commonwealth

Bluegrass turned Red - A What may have been TL
By: A Just a Turtledove fan

Prologue- The loss of the commonwealth
September 2nd, 1861

Mayor General Leonidas Polk received a telegram from the Tennesee Governor to hold his invasion plans in Kentucky [1]. Polk's first reaction was one of anger, but ultimately he complied. Delaying his planned occupation of Columbus. Meanwhile in Kentucky word about Frémont's actions soon reached the public, who was outraged by the news. A majority of Kentuckians and its legislators may have been unionists but they were certainly no abolitionists. Frémont, fearing a revival of the dead by that point secessionist movement in the state, ordered Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant to occupy Paducah, Kentucky. Frémont's rationale behind these actions was rather simple, Kentucky had too great of strategic importance to sit out of the conflict, and his assessment was correct as it was clear neutrality wouldn't last. But in invading Kentucky after having struck fear in the slaveowners of Kentucky with his reckless behavior. He created an image of the republican north wanting to impose war and abolition on the state. That didn't sit well with the self-rule-loving Kentuckians, who turned from a strongly unionist stance to secession. In hindsight, Frémont would have done less damage by carrying out a scheme to attract Kentucky into the Confederacy. But despite Frémont's incompetence, had Polk carried out his plan, the union armies would have marched into the commonwealth as liberators instead of invaders.


Mayor General John C. Frémont, his blunders made Kentucky leave the union.

On September 10th, a day after Grant's occupation of Paducah, the state legislature met in Frankfort by request of the governor, Beriah Magoffin, who called for a convention about secession. It passed the House with 60 for and 40 against, while it passed on the senate with a 22 votes majority. The assembly was held the next day with a decisive 80 votes in favor of secession and only 34 votes against it. The state government drafted the declaration of secession and a retraction of the state's neutrality, citing the northern invasion and its violation of states' rights as the main reason behind their actions. After the declaration of secession, Polk moved his army inside Kentucky, occupying Columbus and deploying his forces to the rest of the commonwealth, starting what came to be known as the Kentucky autumn campaign.

Magoffin later stated: "Kentucky remained loyal to the union until the moment the federal government attempted against the state neutrality." Lincoln famously said in the emergency meeting regarding Kentucky's secession: "Losing the commonwealth has been the biggest blow the union has received since its inception."

After spending quite a few weeks thinking of this scenario, I finally sat down and started writing it. This timeline is a loose coherent story in my head. So don't expect a regular post schedule. I have to do research for every update and deal with other obligations. So don't be surprised if the next chapter takes a month or more.

Regarding any criticism, it is very much welcome, and I would love to explain my rationale.

For this update, I have mainly used for research the following documents:

The Civil War in Kentucky by Harrison, Lowell Hayes, 1922

Jefferson Davis and his generals: the failure of Confederate command in the West by Woodworth, Steven E

Confederate General Leonidas Polk and the collapse of the Confederate command structure in the Western Theater by Bryan S. Bush

[1] It really did happen. Polk just ignored the advice of the governor.
Confederate Kentucky. Consider me interested. I've always found that scenario to be an intriguing one mostly because I feel like it is a scenario that very easily could have occurred. Best of luck in this and I will be watching with great interest!
I hope Kentucky doesn't pin its hopes on the generalship of Polk. Grant will clean his clock.

I think General Albert Sydney Johnston (who assumed command in person on September 10) will ensure that doesn't happen. He is a Kentucky native as I understand, like Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and John C. Breckinridge, among other notables, as well as a close friend to President Jefferson Davis (so he will have his back in Richmond).
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I've always been fascinated by the idea of a Kentucky secession timeline just because I feel it was the most likely of the split-government states to fully secede, given its position and being a well-settled Southern state with a similar percentage of slaveholding as Tennessee (unlike Missouri where the percentage of slaves was actually quite small for a slave state).

I'd been considering writing my own timeline on it but frankly I'm lazy and will be busy with schoolwork this semester anyway so I'm really glad to see this timeline! Seems like a strong opening, can't wait to see where this goes. If A.S Johnston still takes command, it'll be interesting to see how he does in defending his home state, he died early in the war but if I recall he showed promise tactically and strategically.
Chapter 1- The Battle of Columbus and opening moves
Chapter 1- The Battle of Columbus and opening moves

While Polk's decision to delay the occupation of Columbus might have been the best in a political and strategic sense, it was far from ideal on the tactical side. Grant understood the importance of Columbus on a strategic level. Knowing that if he could outmarch Polk's Division, he could secure access to the Mississippi river without needing to fight through a fearsome defensive position as Columbus. Thus after being denied his request by Frémont, Grant took it upon himself to secure the vital town. But unfortunately for him, he arrived just half a day later than his confederate counterpart. Despite the setback, Grant landed on the right bank of the Mississippi river to position his army threatening Columbus.

But the decision to remain around the city wasn't one of stubbornness. On the contrary, Grant looked at the situation with a strategic mindset. Allowing the rebels to keep and fortify Columbus would be a death blow to the Union's Anaconda Plan. With the northern end of the Mississippi river cut off for Union access. With the rebels in control of the Mobile-Alabama railroad, the secessionist could redeploy as many men as needed into western Kentucky, making the Union's army position in Paducah unsustainable, preventing the Union from using the Tennesee, Cumberland, and Mississippi rivers, meaning total Confederate control of the Mississippi, a war-winning advantage. Thus it was vital to prevent the rebels from securing their position. And remaining around Columbus, even if not attacking it directly, was the only way to avert it.

So, knowing himself outnumbered, Grant camped outside of Columbus and dispatched a message to Winfield Scott, bypassing Frémont, later replaced with David Hunter by Lincoln the day after, requesting immediate reinforcements to oust the rebels in Columbus. Despite Scott's almost inexistent authority by September, the request got to Lincoln on September 15th. The president dispatched orders to get Grant reinforced at once. But reinforcements were more than a day's march away, leaving Grant vulnerable to a confederate attack.

On the reb side, the reorganization of department N0. 2 into the army of central Kentucky left a sour taste in Leonidas Polk's mouth. His demotion to division commander under Albert Sidney Johnston didn't sit well with the fighting bishop. Who believed himself capable of commanding an independent command. He intended to prove himself by obtaining a victory of his own. With this in mind, Polk sought to drive out Grant's army to secure his hold on Columbus, as he felt uneasy with the presence of the federal force just a few miles away from his army. He ordered his army to engage Grant's army on the morning of the 15th, just a day after reaching Columbus.

Major General Leonidas Polk, the Fighting Bishop

At 9 in the morning, both armies deployed and prepared for battle. The confederates held an advantage as they outnumbered the federal by 3000 men, numbering just over 9,000 men and having seven artillery pieces to the feds' six. The battle started with an artillery duel between the federal guns and their confederate counterpart. Thirty minutes after artillery began firing, the opposing skirmishers' lines met each other. Thanks to the shared western background of the men forming both armies, differences between the federals' and confederates' marksmanship weren't as notable as in the east. But the urban regiments from Illinois and Ohio were still less capable than their counterparts.

By noon after 3 hours of light skirmishing and an artillery duel that had led to the disabling of two rebel guns to the federal one. Polk ordered Pillow's Brigade to advance and put pressure on the federal right flank while Tappan, the 12th Louisiana infantry, and the second Kentucky infantry advanced against the Union center. Despite mounting pressure, the Union troops stood their ground despite the mediocre training they received before Grant's appointment. Pillows' Brigade failed to break Grant's 1st division. Thanks in part to the 18th and 11th Illinois.

Plummer's and Cook's Brigades in the center faired less well but held the rebs back all the same. Despite the limited success, the tied had turned on the artillery front after a lucky shot struck an ammunition chest destroying two Union guns. The change of fortunes combined an extreme pressure on the federal left flank by the 5th, 6th, and 9th Tenessee infantry pushed Grant's army into a dire position. And by two in the morning, Grant ordered his army to withdraw to prevent them from getting overrun.

The battle of Columbus ended in a close victory for the Confederate States of America, where newspapers all around the country applauded Polk's great triumph. Casualties on both sides were light, with little over 160 confederate casualties against the 110 federal. Still, this battle would become the bloodiest one in the western theater to that date.

Grant was pursued by Polk, forcing him to cross the Tenessee river in Paducah, abandoning western Kentucky to the rebels. Grant was targeted after the defeat by the northern media, claiming Grant was unfit for command. But this couldn't be further from the truth, as his later campaigns show us. Grant's position was weak due to the number disparity on a tactical level. Polk could reinforce faster than he could due to the railway and river. Retreating to Paducah would have allowed Polk to start his fortifying Columbus, which the Union didn't want; remaining near Columbus allowed Grant to force Polk to delay his fortifying operation and eventually attack him. Grant hoped he could obstruct Polk long enough so reinforces could arrive, giving him enough numbers to defeat the bishop. And those who argue his army could have reached Columbus before Polk disregard Frémont ordered Grant to occupy Paducah and wait for further orders. Grant's march on Columbus would have been a success had Frémont permitted him when he asked. But Frémont denied his request up to two times. And even then, he might have reached Columbus in time had confederate sympathizers not delayed his march by rioting in Paducah and attacking his wagons.

Getting back on track after the battle of Columbus, Union, and Confederate armies were positioned in and around Kentucky. Albert Sidney Johnston ordered J. Hardee to move his division to Shepherdsville on September 16th. Meanwhile, a new division formed with the Kentucky state guard regiments in Frankfort and Lexington under John C. Beckrindge was incorporated into Johnston's command. Two days later, he ordered Simon Boliver Buckner to occupy the city of Louisa with his 8000 men. Despite most of Kentucky being in confederate control, Louisville remained under the Union due to a combination of more pro-Union sentiment and the occupation of the city by Robert Anderson's department of the Cumberland. This led to the creation of a parallel pro-union government being created. This government claimed to be the legitimate government of the Commonwealth, but for clarity purposes, we will call it the Louisville government, as there is where the government was located.

William T. Sherman succeeded Anderson as commander, much to his dismay.

By October, both armies had stopped their advances and had entered a transitional period just before getting reorganized during the winter. Soon big armies will roam the west too. And the horrors of war will finally catch up to Kentucky, turning Bluegrass red.

Kentucky late 1861.PNG

Hey guys, thank you so much for the support. I mean, I didn't expect you guys to react so positively. If anyone is wondering why Frémont was replaced earlier than in our timeline, it's mainly because his last mistake was so great that Lincoln just got rid of him without delays this time.

For this update, I have mainly used for research the following documents:

Nothing but victory: the Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865

Jefferson Davis and his generals: the failure of Confederate command in the West by Woodworth, Steven E

Confederate General Leonidas Polk and the collapse of the Confederate command structure in the Western Theater by Bryan S. Bush

The Civil War in Kentucky by Harrison, Lowell Hayes, 1922

The railroads of Kentucky 1861-1865.

Pride of the South: confederate leaders of the Civil War
An excellent update overall. With Kentucky having joined the Confederacy, and with its vast manpower (a major portion of which would undoubtedly be sent east), it would lend immense support to the Southern cause, coupled with an early victory that punctured the northern pincer of Scott's Anaconda Plan, though I still anticipate the rest of the blockade to proceed as in OTL, with New Orleans and Baton Rouge falling into Union hands.